What struggles of child care centers could mean for Washington parents

What struggles of child care centers could mean for Washington parents

The coronavirus is making the future difficult for both child care centers and the parents who rely on those services.

Deeann Puffert, CEO of Child Care Aware of Washington, said local day care centers have been hit hard during the pandemic, with parents keeping their kids at home, and many facilities shutting their doors during the lockdown.

“Twenty-five percent of the programs statewide are currently closed … a number of programs have reopened, but they’re struggling with enrollment that is still less than about 50 percent,” she said.

In King County, 380 programs remain closed. Snohomish County has 109 child care facilities closed, while 138 are closed in Pierce County.

Even with the state beginning to reopen, CDC guidelines limit the number of people who can be together per classroom — which means many care centers will have to drastically reduce their capacity.

“What you’re going to see is classrooms that are much smaller than they used to be, which is a huge financial impact for child care providers who were barely making it before the pandemic,” Puffert said.

Despite the lowered capacity, Puffert said many facilities will still have to have the same number of care providers, because adults are needed to enforce social distancing, keep surfaces sanitized, and make sure other safety precautions are taken. Child care centers also have to spend more money on that precious commodity, PPE.

All in all, that amounts to a loss in revenue and an increase in costs … and those costs may well be passed along to parents.

“If the market follows the cost, the answer is yes [they will be],” Puffert said. “But families can only afford to pay so much … I do think it’s going to become increasingly difficult to afford child care.”

This comes when there is already a child care crisis in Washington — a year of day care can cost as much as a year of college tuition.

“Most of us are paying for college for our kiddos when we’re at a much better earning level. So it’s a double-whammy,” Puffert said. “It’s during the years when you’re still gaining that living wage, if you will, and you’re also being asked to pay that college tuition-level cost.”

She sees lower-middle-class families, who are not eligible for government aid but also not wealthy, having the biggest struggles affording day care in the future. Puffert predicts they may opt to have relatives or friends take care of children instead.

However, she also worries that “the market may go underground,” with illegal operations starting up to take care of children at a lower rate.

“People will have to make choices that may not be the ideal choice for a child,” she said.

If parents are unsure if they can afford child care, they can call Child Care Aware of Washington at 1-800-446-1114 and talk through their options.